Retro Review: The Contender

A political drama that examines each side of the human condition. As each character unfolds we see what could be conveyed as a little piece of ourselves.

The Contender is a poignant drama chronicling the search for a new Vice-President when the previous Vice-President dies unsuspectingly. As the smoke and controversy clear we find out that there are two front runners for the Vice-presidency.

Those two incumbents are Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) and Senator Jack Hathaway (William Petersen). Each of the incumbents is viciously investigated but the man who seems to hold the decision in his hands is Chairman Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman).

Runyon has some disregard and hidden vengeance for not electing Hanson and this tension sways his vote toward Jack Hathaway. Runyon is checked when the President in office (Jeff Bridges) nominates Hanson as his candidate.

Now if Runyon is to get Hathaway into office he must convince a judiciary committee to strike down the President’s nominee. The story continues as these political egos clash resulting in a very smart and interesting array of confrontations.

I loved the clashing of egos as each political figure began to focus upon their role in this race. I liked how the writer of the film brought each character into the light as a part of what we are.

As I sat and watched each character’s role evolve I saw fragments of me in each character. I love good scripts that have this knack.

Some examples of this are as follows. First off take Joan Allen’s history making female incumbent Laine Hanson who displays the grace, steadfast, moralistic and proud part of each of us.

Second would be Shelly Runyon’s character who displays the power, tact, desperation and vindication in all of us. And finally would be Jack Hathaway who displays the character traits of smug, contentious, abused, nervous and weak.

What is interesting is how the script unveils each of these characters as the movie unfolds. Another interesting angle is the character of the President who is a lot like each one but uses each trait tactfully. I place the President character between Runyon and Hanson.

As each of these traits are explored and classified we have a great summing up of them all in the film’s closing monologue. I liked how the speech talked about what is done in the political process and how that process relates to our lives. It doesn’t matter who we might have been before but who we are today.

By having such detailed characters we obviously will have some amazing performances and that is so true in the performances of Gary Oldman and Joan Allen. What I liked alot was how the director never lets any of the actors get to melodramatic or over-emotional in any particular scene.

When emotion is displayed it was subtle and made a huge impact on a character’s evolution. Just two slowly descending tears can stun an audience. That is magic.

Joan Allen’s portrayal of incumbent Laine Hanson deserves an Oscar nod because of how much we can relate to her in that role. Laine Hanson is Allen and this gifted actress immersed herself in this character.

The couple scenes where you know she is being verbally undressed and it is that struggle that we see inside her character that is magical. It maybe a very subtle emotion that she displays but it encompasses her character.

Gary Oldman, who plays the devilish Shelly Runyon, has played a lot of vicious characters before but with Runyon he creates a new dimension on these characters. Since Runyon is apart of the political spectrum and has to be sophisticated and tactful it is sometimes hard to show how evil one is.

But I tell you as you watch him you can cut the slime coming off this guy with a knife.

The Contender is being compared to “All the President’s Men” and “The Candidate” but what it may be is an original all its own. There is very little action or full-blown tension in this film unlike “All the President’s Men” and “The Candidate”. There is humor, amazing dialogue and brilliant character analysis. The Contender is a powerful film.

(4.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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